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3 Things to Avoid When Designing Learning on a Budget

This article is adapted from our ebook ‘Be Brilliant on a Budget: 11 Ways You Can Get the Best for Your Learners Without Breaking the Bank’. In this extract, Learning Consultant, Alex Steer, discusses three key things to avoid when working to a tight budget on your learning design.

Designing effective learning on a budget can feel like a real challenge, but here are some key things to avoid:

  • Underestimating the power of simple, helpful resources
  • Trying to convert face-to-face into a live-online session without making some significant changes. Think ‘virtual first’.
  • Forgetting to build in-line manager, mentor, or coaching touchpoints into your learner journey. They matter now more than ever.

1. Underestimating the Power of Resources

A well-thought-through and carefully designed PDF is a valuable tool and shouldn’t be underestimated as part of a blended program. It works well as a just-in-time resource available at the point of need. That doesn’t mean it has to lack creativity—using top tips, case studies, anecdotes, quotes, thought-starter questions, and suggested practical activities can lift simple PDF content.

Think about layouts and consider imagery carefully. Doing a great job on basic components doesn’t need to be time-consuming, but it does need design rigor applied.

A series of multi-faceted PDFs can instantly create a wealth of core material to be used within a blended program. Consider supplementing these with judicious use of more expensive video or eLearning micro-content in a supporting role to maximize your budget and effectiveness.

MORE FROM THE BLOG | ‘How To Design a Distance-Friendly Blended Learning Experience

2. Directly Converting From Face-to-Face to Live Online

In the current climate, it’s likely that you’ve been asked to convert existing face-to-face training into a digital or online format.

Often, the quickest route is to use live online delivery in an attempt to salvage as much of the training format as possible. You could even recreate the experience in a digital environment to prevent additional expense.

While this may appear to be a budget-friendly way of doing things, it’s also a clear reactionary response to our change in circumstances. Now that we have had time to adjust, we must ask ourselves: ‘What is actually best for the learner?’

Is a direct translation really going to be as effective? In the majority of cases, the transition from a live event to live online will not be a seamless one and the learner will need different things from the delivery and facilitator. We’re now in a position to optimize what we’re doing. We refer to this change in design approach as a move to ‘virtual first’.

RELATED READING TO DOWNLOAD | ‘12 Ways to Design Virtual-First Learning

As facilitators of live online sessions, we need to have much more planned in advance. There is less capacity for spontaneity as the technology itself needs to be able to keep up with your ideas. For example, free-hand drawing of explanatory diagrams and off-the-cuff activities could prove problematic and would need to be anticipated and created prior to the session.

That said, facilitators need to be more spontaneous than ever before. Reading a room that they cannot see means paying extra attention to the signals that learners are sending. Empathy matters now more than ever.

Depending on what you use, your video conferencing application will likely contain enhanced features such as break-out rooms and whiteboards. You can take interactivity further, and for free, by using online tools to help improve your sessions and activities. Consider running polls (particularly for larger groups) to gauge audience reaction, design ‘sticky note’ exercises for workshop activities using Google Jamboards or equivalent.

Like anything, these free tools will need a bit of practice beforehand and links will need to be shared with participants prior to the session to iron out any technical difficulties.

RECOMMENDED WATCHING | ‘Going Virtual: Next Steps in Engaging Online Together

3. Forgetting In-Line Manager, Mentor, or Coaching Touchpoints

This should really be a core part of any blended learning journey, and there is plenty of research to suggest that successful learning programs must have manager buy-in. But as more people work and learn from home, this kind of touchpoint is even more valuable. 

On a budget, it makes sense to leverage the talent you already have and use this as an opportunity to provide targeted advice, feedback, and aid sense-making. It helps to build a joined-up experience for your learners to then start applying their newly-found knowledge to real situations.

Bonus: Focus on Minimum Outlay for Maximum Results

In addition to things to avoid, this is a critical part of the learning design puzzle. Remember, expensive doesn’t always mean effective and being on a budget shouldn’t prohibit the delivery of a great learning experience.

The key to delivering effective learning on a budget is to keep your learning targeted and engaging. Encourage active participation and, critically, tailor your learning to the objectives at hand and the learners you’re working with. We know a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work, which is why effective learning journeys are created through careful and deliberate learning design.

If you’re looking to push your learning to the next level, but don’t have the budget to invest in a whole host of new tech-focused initiatives, start with an audit. Chances are, you already have a lot of what you need, and auditing your current content can allow you to free up more budget (by removing unnecessary content from your catalog), make your learning more efficient, and get a better understanding of what really works and why.

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Make use of content and expertise already within the business. This can include training your SMEs to become facilitators, making use of User-Generated Content (UGC), encouraging your employees to learn from each other, and using key information already circulating in other areas of your organization.

Finding ways to encourage self-directed and continuous learning can be a fantastic win-win. You’ll likely see increased engagement with learning without having to extend your budget. Creating toolkits from information and experts already in your business is a great way to achieve this without breaking the bank.

Want to learn more about designing and delivering effective learning on a shoestring? Download the ebook ‘Be Brilliant on a Budget: 11 Ways You Can Get the Best for Your Learners Without Breaking the Bank’.

Alex Steer, Learning Consultant

Alex is a Learning Consultant. She joined LEO in 2015, starting out as a junior designer while she gained a postgraduate qualification in eLearning design. She later became a lead designer, before being elevated to her current consultant role—so she has seen all sides of the design process at LEO.

Alex has worked with clients from a variety of sectors and backgrounds, including Mars Inc., the Civil Service, Alfred Dunhill, Sky, Unilever, and Novartis, to name just a few.

Her projects have included a range of mobile apps and mobile support tools, microsites, quizzes, diagnostics, and of course, (award-winning) digital learning. She has been involved in several large-scale learning campaigns and journeys that involve the more investigative elements of her role.

Alex holds a BA (Hons) in English Literature and Creative Writing, and a PG Cert in eLearning Design. Outside of work, Alex enjoys drawing and painting, medieval/early modern herbalism and apothecary, and hiking.

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